Top House Democrats are asking whether the Federal Communications Commission tried to manipulate the court system by urging wireless carriers to challenge an agency order aimed at speeding up the rollout of 5G infrastructure.
Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Michael Doyle (D-Pa.), chairman of the panel’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Jan. 24 asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for information on any communications between the FCC and the carriers related to lawsuits challenging the order. They cited concerns that the FCC may have directed the carriers to sue to transfer the case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit into another federal appeals court.
“It has come to our attention that certain individuals at the FCC may have urged companies to challenge the Order the Commission adopted in order to game the judicial lottery procedure and intimated the agency would look unfavorably towards entities that were not helpful,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Pai.
“If true, it would be inappropriate for the FCC to leverage its power as a regulator to influence regulated companies to further its agenda in seeking a more friendly court,” they added.
An FCC spokesperson declined to comment.
The order, which took effect in part on Jan. 14, restricts how much local governments can charge wireless carriers to process applications for small cell equipment that’s critical to next generation wireless networks.
Cities and counties sued in the Ninth Circuit to overturn the order. Sprint Corp., AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and the Puerto Rico Telephone Co. subsequently filed challenges in different circuits.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit took the consolidated cases but then granted the cities’ request to transfer it back to the Ninth Circuit.